Strategic Primer Distinctive: Do the Unexpected

Last week I described a second distinctive feature of Strategic Primer, my strategy game. Today’s post is about a third distinctive feature of the game: the player’s ability to “do the unexpected.”

In computer strategy games, and board games, and the like, each player has only a limited number of possible actions. If the game’s designer didn’t think of something a player might want to do, the player can’t do that (unless a “house rule” changes the game). In contrast, tabletop role-playing games, another significant influence on Strategic Primer, provide a framework for any reasonable action a player might think of.

Similarly, in Strategic Primer (particularly in this phase that I call “prototype” because the game isn’t ready for publication yet) the player can take his or her strategies—and the game as a whole—in a direction that the designer never dreamed of. For example, in the first campaign, I had intended the “describe it and invent it” and “invent it and get a free prototype” rules (I discontinued the latter after that campaign) as minor features of the game; I expected lots of small-scale battles of armies at a medieval tech level, with finding the enemy, getting there, and coordinating things as the players’ main concerns. Boy, was I wrong. Similarly, in the present campaign, I expected players to be primarily interested in the terrain type of the tiles their explorers passed through, and so I was surprised when they told their explorers to look for specific things, but I was able to make the game fit their expectations rather than merely telling them “there’s nothing in the game about that.” And also in this campaign, some players have shown a fascination with culture and morale, two concepts that are utterly ignored by the game as designed, and have demanded a backstory that was originally deliberately omitted—but it’s possible to add culture, morale, and the like back in and easier to put the backstory into the game than it is to come up with that story.

In Strategic Primer, you can do things I don’t expect (so long as they’re reasonable), ask clarifying questions about things I hadn’t prepared for, and take the game in directions even I the designer never dreamed. As far as I can tell, this makes it unique among strategy games.

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